What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?

What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?

We hear this question A LOT this time of year – from readers, family, and friends alike. So here’s the easy answer: Set it to what’s comfortable for you and your family!

What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?
Because all these people have a different idea of what “comfortable” feels like.

BUT – comfort is a complicated and entrenched behavior that’s rarely rational. For example, my father-in-law’s cousin set her air conditioning at 65° F (18° C) in the summer so she would have to wear a sweater. In the winter, she set her heat to 80° F (27° C) so she could wear short sleeves.

Since this concept of comfort is very subjective, let’s instead look at the factors affecting yours and then examine how you can use them to help you reduce your energy costs. We want you to live brighter throughout the winter by helping you set your thermostat at the best temperature for you and your family.

So, you’re saying there’s not an easy answer to my question.

Not exactly. Our normal circadian rhythm and different hormones (such as stress) fluctuate your body temperature during the day. Consequently, staying comfortable is a moving goal post. For example, you might usually feel alert during the morning, but you may tend to feel a little bit colder or drowsy after lunch (known as the “post lunch dip”).

As the day winds down, your body temperature drops. When you go to sleep, your core body temperature lowers further and heat radiates from your extremities. A National Institute of Health study found the best sleep happens as the body reaches “thermoneutrality.” For example, if you sleep wearing pajamas and covered by one sheet, this happens on average at 60° to 66° F (16° to 19° C).

What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?
That’s right – sneak that thermostat down a few degrees when no one is looking.

When it comes to daytime room temperature, a series of psychological experiments by the Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) showed that people have been socialized to believe that 72° F (22° C) is the optimum comfortable room temperature. In fact, the preferred temperature for comfort ranges from 68° to 76° F (20° to 24° C), depending on the time of year and the type of clothing worn. In one set of ASHRAE experiments, participants who did not know the room’s temperature said they were as comfortable at 68° F (20° C) as they were at 72°F (22° C).

Ummm… That’s hard science. I wanted an easier answer.

Fair point! In that case, it’s now time to experiment on your family. When everyone is home, secretly lower the thermostat setting for few hours every day. For example, drop it from 72° F (22° C) to 70° F (21° C). See how your family reacts and take notes.

A few days later, drop the temperature another degree or two for a few hours. Chances are you won’t get a noticeable reaction until it goes below 68°F (20° C). When you determine the minimum comfort level temperature for your family, use that.

And keep in mind – for every degree you lower the thermostat during winter, you’ll save between 1 and 3% off your heating bill.

But what about when we’re out of the house or asleep?

When everyone is gone for the day, there’s no good reason to keep your home heated to its comfort level. The same applies to night time when everyone is asleep. In both cases, you can set the thermostat lower, even down to 62° F (17° C). This makes it easier for your body to achieve thermoneutrality, and you’ll get a better night’s sleep.

What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?
For example, you could visit DirectEnergy.com/Nest to learn more about getting a Nest Learning Thermostat for your home!

Of course, having a programmable or smart thermostat makes these kind of regular adjustments easy to schedule and maintain automatically.

By the way — if you’ve heard that setting your thermostat to one temperature throughout the day reduces energy usage, Newton’s Law of Cooling proves otherwise.

What happens if my family STILL complains about the house being cold?

Well, apart from practicing thermostat adjustments, the big factor affecting your energy usage is how well insulated and air sealed your home is. The more insulation you have and the better sealed your home is, the longer it takes for your home to lose heat. Reducing cold drafts can lower your energy costs and prevent problems with mold.

Also make sure to monitor your home’s humidity. The US EPA recommends 25% to 40% in the winter. Not only does humid air hold more heat, but your family will have fewer sinus problems from overly dry air. Most programmable and smart thermostats will display the relative humidity at the push of a button.

You should also reverse the spin of your ceiling fans to spin clockwise during fall and winter to circulate warm air properly. You want your fans to draw cool air up from the center of the room and blow warm air down to circulate evenly around the room, which improves comfort. The breeze created moves warm air behind furniture and can help inhibit mold growth on poorly insulated exterior walls. This technique works best when fans are set to medium or slow speed.

Don’t forget to close the curtains over windows at night. Thermally-back window treatments not only insulate against heat loss through windows but they also restrict cold air moving across the glass and and cooing. Curtains and similar window treatments can reduce heat loss by 10%.

Those tips are great, but please answer my question directly – “What’s the best temperature for my thermostat in winter?”

Certainly!

What’s the Best Temperature for My Thermostat in Winter?
And don’t be afraid to drop your thermostat even lower at night – even in winter.
  • If you’re at home in the daytime, 72° F (22° C) is a good start, but aim for 68° F (20° C).
  • If you’re not at home in the daytime, or you’re asleep at night, we feel 66° F (19° C) to 62° F (17° C) is best.

But as we said before, the best temperature for your thermostat in winter is the one that keeps your family happy, warm, and comfortable. Saving energy and lowering your energy bills might be nice, but you might not want to sacrifice family harmony to achieve them.

About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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  • Wayne Rice

    Varying the daily temperature is a bit controversial, in that while lowering the temp saves money, raising it later costs money. Also the outside temp is dropping as you are raising your home temps with that method, home at night and raising it as the outside temp is dropping seems costly. I much prefer a constant low setting, your 68 is a good one, with sweaters 66 is ok most times. Since it is the temperature imbalance that determines how much fuel you will burn to maintain a temp, the lower the base, the lower the cost. Real middle income families can punch up the heat as needed, but us old, poor folk just go get another blanket to wrap up in. Spring’s always just around the corner.

    • drock2289

      “while lowering the temp saves money, raising it later costs money”

      Yes, but keeping the temperature at 66-68 all night is going to cost more than lowering it to 60-62 at night and then raising it back to 66-68 in the morning, because it costs more to keep your home at a higher temperature.

      • Wayne Rice

        Well, a couple of things; first, my state’s energy rep said just the opposite, that a steady temp is more cost-efficient. Second, the outside temp varies a LOT during 24 hours, and is at its lowest in the early morning – but you want to drop the heat to 60 and then heat it up to 68 during some of the coldest hours of the day! Sounds expensive. Anyway, an interesting math problem; temperature variations and their effect on the cost of attaining and maintaining a specific indoor temperature over time.

        I’ve always put my money on a constant temperature. I also am at that age where I get up a LOT during the night, and 68 is way better than 60! 😉

        If you are lowering the temp at all, I would say during the day is better when outside temps are highest, and therefore the temperature differential is the smallest.

        • http://www.worldofskell.freeforums.net Cob Constantz

          You actually lose less heat the closer your house is to the outside temp, so turning down your thermostat for any length of time reduces loss. It takes less energy to heat up a cold house than it does to keep a warm house warm. Heck, if you want to use zero energy, just use no heat and watch as your indoor temps will stop going down at some point. If you heat the home at any time, it will lose that heat at some point.

          Or………..To heck with it, just set it and forget it!

          • Wayne Rice

            No, it is really good to be aware of things like this as it keeps you in an efficient state of mind. I did more research and found this article as well here:
            http://www.directenergy.com/blog/challenging-common-energy-misconceptions-series-part-one/
            One good idea I saw was reverse your ceiling fans to force air down, not up! Close your drapes after dark, etc. Your notion that you lose less heat closer to outside temp is not accurate I think; heat loss is a formula, not a trend, so it is not as simple as it sounds.
            I guess the practical answer is to save the most money, set it as low as people will *let* you, and having a programmable thermostat is a good idea. I’ve never had one. Good luck staying warm this winter.
            Also I will add that in general, I see a public attitude change regarding temperature; I never, ever (I’m 70) ever saw anyone of any age inappropriately dressed for the cold until the last couple of decades; now I see shorts in January! Flipflops in February! If that’s how they are dressing, someone is spending a lot of money on extra heat! So dressing appropriately can lower your heating costs as well. Good luck.

          • Chad Conrad

            Wayne, Re. “Your notion that you lose less heat closer to outside temp is not accurate I think” – actually, it is accurate. The same article you linked in your comment above (and which was cited in the main article above) says this:

            “Newton’s Law of Cooling states that the rate of change of the temperature of an object is proportional to the difference between its own temperature and the ambient (or surrounding) temperature. The cooler the interior of your home gets (relative to outside temperature), the slower the heat loss. In other words, your home loses heat energy more quickly at 72°F than it does at 62°F because heat transfer slows down as the difference in temperatures gets closer to thermal equilibrium.”

      • Sasha bakhshi

        You are wrong, it may work to keep the tempurature at 66-68 but when you shut it off and it dips to 60-62 then it will take much longer to raise the temperature from 60-62 to 66-68, so really all you’re doing is spending the same amount of money but making yourself have to wait for the temp to go up

        • Beau Case

          Read the websites article on whether you should turn down or maintain a constant temp. It is a good write up also study up on newtons law of cooling sorry but the other guy knows what he is talking about.

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  • OLD PIZZA

    70 during the day; 55 at night (but the actual temp rarely falls below 62 in our energy star house)

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  • Ally

    What would be good temp during winter while on Vacation and no one home

    • Adam P. Newton

      Good afternoon, Ally!

      As the post states toward the end, “If you’re not at home in the daytime, or you’re asleep at night, we feel 66° F (19° C) to 62° F (17° C) is best.” This would definitely suffice as an acceptable temperature while you are on vacation.

      The only exception might be if you will have any pets staying in the home while you are away. In that case, you could set your thermostat a bit higher than the recommended 66° F (19° C) to 62° F (17° C).

  • JSul

    We keep our winter setting at 68 degrees…today in DFW the temp is 18 degrees.
    My heat pump has maintained 68 degrees all night and same this morning.
    It is blowing semi warm air….not hot….but maintaining the 68 degree set point….pretty sure it never shut off.
    I assume all is well…but thought hot air would blow for a short period, then shut down and rest a bit until the temp fell below 68, just like our a.c. does at 76 degree set point.
    Aux heat has never come on….unit seems to be running ok as is the air handler.

  • Sasha bakhshi

    It’s -21°C outside and in the house it’s 55°F or 12-13°C

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  • http://www.PoetPatriot.com/ Roger W Hancock

    I drop my heat down to 66° at night. I figured with the blankets I’ll be warm enough and asleep to not notice the colder temp. However when stopping by my PC to post such comments I begin to feel a chill. . . . Time to get under the covers (-:)>

  • Tony

    Say during the winter in Floriday there are great changes in outdoor temperatures between nighttime and daytime periods and my a/c temp setting is lower than the nighttime outdoor temperature will my system bring the inside temperature below that of the outdoor or will it cut out when reaching the mean temp of the outdoors?

  • notsofastnow

    I rarely use heat in the winter. If so, only a space heater for a short time. I’m in Northern California, but indoor temps can still drop to the high 50s at night. I don’t mind — I like it cool when I sleep, and don’t need heat during the day if I’m moving about.

    Americans tend to be pampered where the thermostat is concerned. You’ll find that in many countries, the winter thermostat is set low to conserve energy. Less so with most Americans.

  • Wzy

    We’ve noticed a big and welcome drop in our heating bills this winter by turning it down to 63 degrees while in bed. Those boiled wool blankets from the second hand store are unbeatable to keeping us warm without sweating.